In Conversation With: Stag & Bow, Purveyors Of Historic Craft And Haberdashery
Based in Forest Hill in South London, Stag & Bow are a shop that curates textiles, haberdashery and vintage homewares that entice you to consider the beautifully crafted things in life. We all love a shop that has knick knacks, and antique wooden furniture, and bits that call us into the recesses of craft evenings and TV. Pascale has built up a space that offers all of this, with such an authentic perspective on the "why" of why do it. Stag & Bow have stocked a selection of our fabrics since they opened doors, and are back with a new collection of fair trade hand blocks and favourite natural handweaves. Here we check in with Pascale's thoughts on her business, her love of textiles and keeping up with learning new skills.
What was the main reason you started your business?
My partner Cyrus and I are makers and grafters. Our love of making (and Scotland) kept us talking until dawn the first time we met. Cyrus works mostly with wood, I with Textiles - many different practices with weaving being my true textile love. We have a passion for beautiful, honest, natural materials and processes, and respect for where they came from and the journey they have been on before coming through our hands. The legendary answer in short to this question goes back to our first Christmas together, where upon giving our handmade gifts to my Dad, he said, "you two should open a shop!"
Was a brick and mortar shop always on the cards, and why is it important to the business now, especially after a lockdown situation?
Yes it was, we are so grounded in the literal, tangible, tactile, historical and poetic qualities of the materials and made items we love, that being online wasn’t an option. And we’re crap at all that. Although Cyrus is the eBay king and I am so lazy at hunting for things online that the sinister listening-in of targeted marketing is a dream come true. Nothing like purchasing those hair extensions you’ve mentioned twice when you’re on the loo eh?….. What our bricks and mortar shop gives us and our community is real. Real Life. We love so much the community we are part of. People. Hands. Busy fingers. History. Tactile. Emotive. Nostalgia. Tangible. You don’t get that online do ya?
Your crafty background no doubt helps in your shop curation. How do you go about selecting what you stock?
I’ve always been a fussy bastard - I mean I have always known what I like and I like real things. Cut the crap; Give me the good stuff. Honest, real good stuff. Drop the showmanship, drop the floof and fluff and sparkles and trickery that cover up an essentially shit product. I’ve never been interested in mediocre - nor Cyrus. We like real things. We love real, natural materials, real processes and honesty. We are not hobby craft, we don’t sell everything covered in loads of plastic. We sell beautiful, discerning curated products for making beautiful discerning things. Things that bring you joy whilst you’re making them, things that you put all of your love and emotion and feeling into. Things that will hold that history forever.
"We sell beautiful, discerning curated products for making beautiful discerning things."
Your choice of fabrics tends to be natural - what’s the reason behind this?
I honestly don’t understand why you would use anything else? Textiles are fundamental to our survival. I like to think about what is was like to be a naked early human, needing to cover up because it was cold. Skins, plants - you made it work. If you ate a beast you would honour it for the food it has given you and use its skin for protection, its bones for tools, it's fur. You would use fibres from plants to twist and spin and plait and weave together, fibres from animals that you had started to domesticate. Dyes from plants and natural bi-products. We were part of the earth. Part of nature's cycle. Now we are at breaking point. I have always been rooted in living within a circular economy, as much as my understanding and society allows. I just don’t get plastic. I never have. It's depressed me from as young as I can remember. I love to recycle and always re-use but I don’t understand say when the pencils I have been given are made from old CD cases and then I sharpen them. What happens then? Where do those shavings go?
"We were part of the earth. Part of nature's cycle. Now we are at breaking point."
What is the most favourite piece of fabric you’ve ever come across, and why?
I have a few! We have some fabric in the shop, an emerald green damask silk, pomegranates and curls and leaves, I think it’s of the Arts & Crafts era, with uneven selvedges. Its very delicate now and was probably used as a wall covering. I have priced it so high that no-one wants to buy it. I just look at it and it brings me so much joy. I also have this funny and very soft piece of loose tabby handwoven rough natural silk with rainbow silk threads here and there. It was made into an apron at some point by someone and has some yellowed old cotton tape still attached to one side. It's so soft and beautiful and raggedy. I spend a fair amount of time stroking our Offset Warehouse chambray too…. It's just beauty! "Chambray", like "haberdashery" are very, very good words.
With your yarns, they’re very much about low impact raw materials and processes, and you even have your own Stag & Bow yarn - could you tell us about your selection?
For the same reasons as our fabric choices. I know the cost puts people off and is difficult because the act of making is so very important for our own mental heath and wellbeing. Focus and peace; it is meditation when you are completely absorbed in what your busy fingers are doing. By the same token though, in my understanding, it goes hand in hand with using materials that are honest and beautiful. That don’t harm anyone, anything, or any environment. That the creatures giving us their fibres are loved and looked after. That the dyes aren’t hurting anyone producing them or living in the vicinity of their production. That the people cultivating and producing these fibres are looked after and not exploited, that the fibres are grown with love and respect for the land and not poisoning the earth that we are part of. I believe that everything carries a memory, an essence of what it has experienced: maybe karma? I believe also that we give back and don’t just take. We give back.
Your workshops are really varied - how do you choose what to run? Has the pandemic impacted what people are wanting to learn?
I have to admit to indulging a fair bit in my own fantasies on all the things I want to learn and share with people. I get a little bit intense and evangelical talking about processes and materials and what all these do to ground you and put you in touch with your soul... Can you tell?! It's just so pure and integral to human nature. To make, to survive, to share, to give. We haven’t started up our workshops again since March - we plan to in the New Year. There is a lot of thought and planning and admin that goes into them and to be honest, it has been a nice break having a few months off and really focussing on the shop and products and planning.
You are skilled yourself, but what’s something you yourself would like to learn to do?
I am a bit of a jack of all textile trades. But I would love to really immerse myself in weaving. I majored in weaving at university and I just love it: I really, really love it. It gave me patience and perspective and respect for process. I fell pregnant with my first daughter fresh out of uni and dabbled somewhat with my giant loom in her room, then set up a childrenswear business, studied some more for 3 years, then moved from Australia back home to London. Where I did a teeny bit more weaving in-between my daughter climbing on the loom or it being used to hang washing…
Since setting up Stag & Bow (10 years ago this December) I have had no time to weave, I’ve been running the shop and we have had two more babies. Between us, Cyrus and I have 5 children. We are the Waltons! We also set up our sister business 'The Framing Salon’ which grew out of Stag & Bow and lives next door. That's where Cyrus is now. They are amazing craftsmen - I would really like to get some carpentry skills in from them, but they take really long coffee breaks though and I don’t have the patience for that!
Along with textile-based supplies, you also stock household goods and jewellery. How come you curate the shop into a ‘creative living boutique' like this - is it the setting and what customers ask for?
It's all come about very organically. It goes back to a fully circular respect. We love and honour things that have a history, things that are quality and have been made with soul. Whatever that item is, someone has taken the time to really put their essence into it. Whatever that may be; jewellery, ceramics, clothing, household goods, chocolate! Every thing we sell has been made with intention and love. You pick anything up in our shop and the item will resonate with love and intention. I have a wonderful dustpan and brush that I have had for many, many years. Straight up, does the job. It lived in my family kitchen growing up. A steel pan and a proper bristle brush. I don’t want the crap plastic one that doesn’t work thanks. I want quality. I don’t want landfill. I don’t want throw away, disposable, poisonus shit that needs replacing every few months. Why would anyone want that? I bought a new hand brush a few years ago as the bristles has worn so short after many years in service - it is my favourite brush to get under my sewing machine. It was a bolt of lightening - it's not just about beautiful products to make with, and beautiful products that have been made, it is also about beautiful utilitarian products that have been made with intention. It's about quality, soul, function and natural materials.
"I don’t want the crap plastic one that doesn’t work thanks. I want quality. I don’t want landfill."
It seems that the Victorian aesthetic rings out with details like in your label embosser and furniture - is there something about Victoriana you particularly appreciate?
Our shop is late Victorian but we are not knowingly Victoriana enthusiasts, we just love quality and things that are made to last. Our shop fittings are beautiful and functional. We love finding beautiful functional objects. We just love quality and practicality and if its finished off beautifully then even better!
"People. Hands. Busy fingers. History. Tactile. Emotive. Nostalgia. Tangible." In conversation with Pascale Spall, Stag & Bow, on having a bricks + mortar shop
Find Stag & Bow:
Address: 8 Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3XU
Current opening hours (as of 14th October 2020): Wednesday 10-5, Saturday 10-5, Sunday 11-4